Just because someone can write, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can write. Proof of this can be found all over the wondrous worldwide web. But I’m not real fond of the “We’re in a club and you can’t join” approach, either. And referring to one’s writing as one’s craft is very much like an actor referring to his body as his instrument, no? I’m not sure which acting philosophy that comes from, but it does irritate me and I do know that I don’t want to be enrolled in that class. I picture a backstage nativity with some guy in black tights with smudged makeup and a sock hat imparting wisdom to a group of painfully naïve (yet eager) neophytes.
No, writing is something else entirely. To be a writer, you need to be
1) reflective/introspective – meaning your attention span and interests range far beyond “”Extra” and “Fox News.”
2) observant — meaning you need to listen more than anything else.
3) courageous – willing to step out of the box, willing to encounter (nay, court) rejection, and willing to follow an idea or a story or a compulsion wherever it takes you.
Most of all courageous. Oh and one more thing…
You have to not be able to not write.
Yeah, you heard right. Harlan Ellison told me that once…and I want to give him full credit, because if I don’t, I’m afraid he’ll sue me. Those of you that have met Harlan or read his essays or have heard him speak know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t experienced Harlan on some level, go out now (yes, leave the room, abandon your computer screen, let your Starbucks get cold) and purchase “Alone Against Tomorrow,” “Deathbird Stories,” “Strange Wine,” “Shatterday” “Sleepless Nights on a Procrustian Bed” or any of his many other collections of short stories and/or essays and enjoy. It is a truly singular, truly magical experience to read Harlan Ellison. He is a master of the art of story.
Personal favorites would include ‘“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman,” “Jeffty is Five,” “Pretty Maggie MoneyEyes,” “Mefisto in Onyx,” and “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” but you can’t go wrong with any pick.
Read. And then go out and observe, reflect and write…because you can’t help yourself.